When it comes to designing and planting gorgeous, high-end containers, there’s a simple method well known to gardening and landscaping professionals — but little known to the public at large. This pro technique is called ”thriller, filler, spiller” — and we’re going to show you how you can use it to create luxurious container gardens at a fraction of what the professionals charge.
The thriller, filler, spiller method is all about choosing the right kind of plant and positioning it in the right spot in the container so it can shine. It works for any size planter, but you will need to scale the plants according to the size of the container (for example, a very tall ornamental grass like fountain grass would be too big for a small planter, but Angelonia would be an excellent choice because it is smaller). Let’s break it down.
Thriller plants are the focal point of the finished container. They are tall, stately, architectural and bold. You start by choosing your thriller and then choose the other plants to complement it. If your container will be viewed from all sides, the thriller goes in the center of the pot. If it will be viewed from one side, the thriller goes in the back (like the tallest person in a group photo).
- Ornamental grasses (like purple fountain grass)
- Canna lily
- Coleus (both sun and shade varieties are available)
- Foxtail fern
- Persian shield
- Elephant ear
Next up, we have the filler plants, which are midsize mounding or rounded plants that accentuate the thriller. In a container that will be viewed from all sides, these circle the thriller. In a container viewed from one side, they form the middle row. When choosing fillers to complement a thriller, consider their color, shape and height.
- Joseph’s Coat
- Dusty miller
- Euphorbia hybrids
- Boston fern
- Blue daze
Just as the name suggests, spiller plants cascade over the sides of the container to create an elegant finished arrangement. In a container viewed from all sides, a spiller is the last item in and is planted at the edge of the container. In a container viewed from one side, it is planted by the front edge.
- Sweet potato vine
- Creeping Jenny
- Blue daze
- Fiber optic grass
- Chenille plant
- Supercascade petunia
- Spider plant
- Purple wandering Jew
- Creeping thyme
- Creeping wire vine
A Few More Tips About Thriller, Filler, Spiller
When choosing any plant, find out its growth habit (if it stays slim or becomes bushy, if it stays at 1 foot or grows to 5 feet). You don’t want to plant a filler that will soon grow taller than your thriller. Also, be mindful that some plants in the same family have different growth habits. Coleus, for example, has varieties for shade and varieties for sun, and some cascade and some are upright. Be sure the plants you choose are well-suited to your climate. Some plants that are considered “full sun” may not be able to take southern heat, and many tropical plants will not do well in northern locations where there isn’t enough humidity or sunshine.
Finally, when picking out your thriller, filler and spiller plants, choose plants that have similar lighting and watering needs to give everything a better chance of survival. An independent, locally owned garden center is more likely to carry plants suited to the local climate than the big box stores, and they will have more knowledgeable staff who can answer your questions.
For the last 16 years, Rachel Kinbar has been a writer of articles, blog posts, white papers, essays, infographics, web copy, sales copy, scripts, poetry, lyrics, and more. She has keen research skills that she applies to a wide variety of topics, and she especially loves topics related to design, history, and sustainable living.